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The Crowd: A Legend in his own time at CHOC gala

By B.W. Cook |
February 19, 2015| 5:15 p.m.

John Wayne Airport was unusually busy on this particular Saturday evening. Amid the usual hustle of travelers, one special gentleman and his exquisite model wife landed on the private tarmac, courtesy of a helicopter bringing them in from Los Angeles.

It was not just another Saturday night but rather the night before the Grammy telecast that would feature the talents of this gifted musician and humanitarian.

John Legend had come to the O.C. to front the Children’s Hospital of Orange County’s annual gala, held at the chic Island Hotel Newport Beach. Legend had come to perform and make a charitable testimony in front of a VIP-studded audience, declaring the vital importance of pediatric medical care in saving children’s lives.

His participation was made possible by the generosity of the Argyros Family Foundation, represented at the event by daughter Stephanie Argyros. What made the entire appearance more dramatic was that Legend had to be spirited away following his show, back to John Wayne to be helicoptered back to Los Angeles to appear at an important pre-Grammy event.

The CHOC gala was billed as Cherishing Children …Our Legacy Is Caring. The evening opened with a performance by Codi Lee, 18, a musical prodigious savant who was born with optic nerve hypoplasia and later diagnosed with autism. Lee spent much of his young life at CHOC surviving many life-saving surgeries. Today he is a pianist, singer, songwriter and dancer, setting the tone of hope and inspiration for the evening at the Island Hotel, which raised $1.65 million for various programs at CHOC.

The glamorous evening was book-ended with the amazing benefit performance by Legend, which included a heart-wrenching song delivered onstage to CHOC patient Adela Jauregui. Adela, 13, has been in and out of CHOC, having been diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was a toddler.

The young teen was overwhelmed by Legend’s passion and sincerity. There was not a dry eye in the ballroom as Legend’s performance ended and the Newport crowd rose to its feet in a rousing ovation.

It would not be exaggerating to describe the evening as one of the most elegant and special charity balls on the Orange Coast. The event, co-chaired by Niloofar Fakhimi and Leyla Milani Khoshbin, emphasized making patrons feel comfortable, serving a fabulous four-course gourmet dinner and topping it off with world-class entertainment.

It must also be noted that both of the chairs, exquisitely attired and stunningly beautiful, will surely be among the A-list charity divas on the coast. They were assisted by a committee of local philanthropists, including Argyros, Jill Bolton, Christine Bren, Kristina Dodge, Susan Samueli, Heather Madden, Caroline Marchant, Kelly Smith and Marsha Willis, to name only a few.

Organizers decorated the Island ballroom in a theme following the Children’s Hospital brand colors of grays and blues. Table centerpieces featured deep-purple calla lilies surrounded by moss and white orchids. The Island culinary staff served a dinner that began with a roasted baby beet salad followed by a main course of filet mignon paired with sautéed scallops in red wine sauce on mushroom truffle risotto.

For dessert, the Island’s famous Hotel Oak Grill Rocky Road Bar — made of chocolate mousse, marshmallow and crispy rice pearls — delighted the crowd. Wine pairings were generously donated by the Bianchi Winery and the Alonzo family.

CHOC donors table-hopping during dinner were Janet and Carl Nolet, Mara and Keith Murray, Amanda and Bob Hogan, Sandi and Doug Jackson, football star Matt Leinart, philanthropist Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, major underwriters Lili and Paul Daftarian, baseball great Chuck Finley and important donors Henry and Susan Samueli.

Enormous community support came from an array of generous businesses. Harry Winston, the Daftarian Real Estate Group, American Honda Motors, Disneyland Resort and South Coast Plaza, represented at the party by community activist Kathryn Cenci, contributed to the overall phenomenal success of the night. What made the evening especially enjoyable, beyond the remarkable performance by Legend, the wonderful dinner and the importance of the cause, was simply that the chairs and committee orchestrated the party to flow without an overbearing call for funding.

There was the obligatory auction and “fund a need,” which raised more than half a million dollars, but it did not ruin the spirit of the evening, which can happen at a charity event when the emcee or auctioneer starts asking for donations and patrons start heading for the nearest restroom, bar or valet station.

As the party in the ballroom came to a close, an after-party set up in one of the pavilions at the Island Hotel attracted more than half of the patrons for late-night hamburger sliders, small grilled cheese sandwiches, cocktails and a chance for one last dance on a beautiful dance floor.

Spotted in the crowd were revelers and CHOC VIPs Barry Ryan, chairman of the CHOC Children’s Foundation; Kimberly Cripe, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital of Orange County; CHOC Children’s Foundation members Patrice Poidmore, Barbra Lopez, Lisa Mitaux and Zachariah Abrams; and special guests Fariborz Masseeh, Gigi Kroll and Howard Gillman.

THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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